Christ Episcopal Church – Grassroots Efforts to Provide a Place for the Community

Christ Episcopal Church in Redondo Beach hosts its weekly Fureai (“connectedness”) program, which is regularly attended by close to 30 older adult participants. Every Wednesday, the program provides activities such as easy English conversation, adult coloring, and board games; and on Fridays, there is even a cooking class.  

In receiving support through Keiro’s Grants Program, the Chris Episcopal Church program organizers, including Father Joshua Lee and Ministry Leader John Tokeshi, wanted to create a space for older adults and others who might be at risk of isolation. A grassroots effort to help not only church members but the community at-large, the weekly program has grown so much that organizers hope to expand beyond their main space – and it is all thanks to a 93-year-old gentleman, who many credit for the idea behind Fureai.

Meet James, Meet Fureai

Those who know James say he’s sharp and incredibly warm hearted.

The former NASA employee still uses his computer daily, and is known to be a welcoming mahjong teacher. James created a Mahjong board and his own guide to use during Fureai, and is always willing to help any participant learn to play the game. With his influence, the mahjong corner has expanded to three tables.

When asked about being the program’s inspiration, he laughs.

“I just aged. That’s all I did,” he says.

When James’ wife passed away, he found himself adjusting to a new lifestyle of living alone. Around that time, Father Joshua came to the United States from Japan. In order to learn more about the community and his new congregation, he first spent time listening and talking to various church members. When it was James’ turn to meet Father Joshua, he shared his experience of living on his own, adding that there could be other older adults in similar circumstances.

He told Father Joshua that there weren’t many reasons for people like himself to go out. James hoped that if the church hosted activities and social gatherings, he and others would make the effort to meet.

Programs like these can be important, almost essential, in reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness that are common for many older adults. It was this concern that prompted Father Joshua and others from the church to take action.

Measure of Success

For Ministry Leader John Tokeshi, the measure of success is based on the conversations in the room.

It hasn’t even been a year since the Fureai program began, and it is almost at max capacity in the main room where it is currently hosted. Many people learned about the program through word of mouth, and the posters and flyers they put up at nearby Japanese markets.

Flyer for Fureai Program

There’s a good balance and mix between generations, and the conversations taking place in the room create a vibrant atmosphere.

“You know – the feel for the atmosphere. The laughter and the talking,” says John, who appreciates seeing the community’s older adults enjoying their time with others. “You can see people building friendships.”

More Mahjong

Like James, many of the older members have found opportunities to help shape the Fureai program. Over time, the activities change and grow depending on what the members ask for. Just as in the expansion of the mahjong tables, the members are able to provide feedback on what they would like to see. Although the group was established with a specific target group in mind, as a local, grassroots program, it has grown organically based on the group’s requests and the input of different attendees.

A number of older adults are Japanese-speaking. Many are women whose husbands have passed and they may not have many opportunities to leave the house. But they regularly attend on Wednesdays, playing Reversi and chess while practicing English as a way to stay connected.

Thanks to Keiro’s grant, many participants receive support for transportation expenses, which allows members to enjoy an afternoon of conversations, playing games, and socializing as they create new connections through the program. There are often new faces joining the group each week, but for other members it is a consistent activity on their schedule. For those individuals, Fureai is just another regular Wednesday with their new community.